Alysa finally fell asleep on the cot downstairs after eating a sandwich and the snacks Grace had given her. It was 5am and Stagger Lee’s was closing; the staff placed chairs on the tables and wiped off the counters as the final patrons exited. Creed sat at the bar with Cassandra and they downed two final shots of whiskey together.
“How long did Johns and his goons stay here?,” Creed asked.
“Little over three hours,” Cassandra told him, “Didn’t seem like they had much else to go on, so I’m guessing they hit a dead end.”
“Good. Thanks for wasting their time.”
“Slow night anyway,” she put the shot glasses away.
“Did Johns give you any contact information? Maybe a number?”
“Nah. Out of all the guys giving me phone numbers last night, he wasn’t one of `em.”
“Funny,” he tossed the keys to his motorcycle on the bar, “Here are the keys to the bike. I’m gonna need your ride.”
“Fine by me,” She tossed her keys to him, which included the keys to the bar, “Lock up when you leave, too?”
“Yeah,…” Creed glanced back at the office where Alysa remained asleep in the hidden basement, “Y’know, that kid is barely coming around to trusting me. I can’t let her down. Can’t let her mom down, either.”
“You’ll figure it out,” she gave him a kiss and left the building along with the staff, “You’re the closest thing we got to Rex Robinson in this town.”
He scoffed, “I ain’t no Rex Robinson.”
As Cassandra closed the door, she jokingly called out in a voice imitating old radio serials, “The Hero of Humanity.”
When Alysa woke up, she found Creed had gotten some fast food for breakfast, although the idea was that they would eat along the way to their next location. “So what’s the plan?,” she asked as Creed locked up the bar, “We gonna keep hiding out? Maybe we can go down to Widow Springs. No one goes out that way.” It was only a suggestion. Widow Springs was a town with a population of a few hundred people that was easy to miss if you weren’t a local but still close enough to Winghaven that they could reach the town in a few minutes. The way Creed bristled at the name made her realize it wasn’t a good idea to say that name. She remembered the rumors she heard at school: Farrell Creed was supposedly Nelson Creed’s son. Nelson Creed terrorized the people in Widow Springs throughout the 70s until one day he was mysteriously shot dead in the middle of the day with the entire town eerily silent on the identity of the killer. Nelson Creed had a wife who was only 17 years old and was, according to rumors, pregnant at the time of the killing. If the rumors were true, Farrell was the unborn child in that situation but Alysa decided not to ask any further questions.
“We don’t need to go to Widow Springs,” he said abruptly, “Last time I ran into the Iconoclasts, they were in one of the old houses outside town. That’s where they had the missing kids and I think I interrupted some kind of ritual. Maybe we can find something there,” they headed across the gravel parking lot and it was there that Alysa noticed Cassandra’s black Camaro.
“Oh, now this is so much better than your motorcycle,” Alysa said happily.
“It’s a nice car. You like Camaros?”
“Who doesn’t?,” they got in the car with Alysa in the passenger seat, “So what happens if the bad guys are in the house when we get there?”
“We’ll take `em out,” Creed started the engine.
“Like,… fight them? There might be a priest or priestess there.”
“Your mom taught you magic. You’ll be fine. Just follow my lead.”
“Uh,… right,” Alysa said sheepishly, not wanting to admit she had little experience applying her mystic training to anything resembling a fight.
Fifteen minutes later, they were parked along a road with the dilapidated house in the field nearby. “This is so damn creepy,” Alysa said once she saw the house, “Do you know how many rumors there are about that place?”
“Yes, I do. That’s why I looked here first.”
“Makes sense. I guess the kids were already dead when you got here, huh?”
“Yeah, if I had to make a bet, buried the bodies of those kids somewhere in this field. I wanted to tell the parents. Thought there was time but they were killed too. I guess there ain’t much else I can do about that now.”
After a brief spot-check, they went down to the cellar and, as expected, the dead teens had been removed. Creed used the flashlight of his phone to shine the light onto the floor, “That’s where the old guy was drawing the Zodiac.” There were only slight stains but Alysa waved a hand across the floor, exposing the symbols drawn in blood with a purple glow.
“Yeah, that’s the Iseda Zodiac,” she explained.
“Any idea what that means?”
“We use these symbols for some rituals and things but I think you know that already. We don’t kill anybody or nothing but I guess you know that, too.”
“What kind of rituals do you use it for?”
“Blessings, good luck, healing, that kinda thing. Sometimes, we use chicken blood or something because it draws out nature spirits but they used human blood. I don’t know what ritual they were doing but… they’re doing something real big. We’re not allowed to use human blood, I mean, obviously but it’s supposed to hold more power. This is crazy.”
“You said something about healing. What kind of healing can you do?”
“Almost everything, know what I’m saying? Broken bones. Gett’n sick. There’s a lot of different rituals and restoration spells for just about anything. Like, I know a little spell to heal cuts and stuff.”
“That a fact?,” Creed thought to himself quietly for a moment before turning back to her, “Let’s check on things top-side.”
Creed brought her out of the cellar and through the front door. The house had wood floor boards that were cracked and dusty and the walls had yellowed wallpaper that was slowly peeling off. An old red sofa sat against the wall, covered in cobwebs. Beyond the sofa was a hallway leading to what were once bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. As they explored, they found old, ragged dolls, broken dishes, and other remnants of a family that had abandoned the house many years prior. “Get a sense for anything?,” Creed asked, “Something we can’t see?” “Right. Let me check,” Alysa concentrated, trying her best to focus her powers on anything they might have missed.
When Alysa noticed Queen Faith in the house, it wasn’t as if she had been hiding, nor did she teleport into the house suddenly. She had always been there but Alysa hadn’t used her powers in time. Queen Faith confidently raised her palm while standing next to Creed who was oblivious. “Farrell, duck!,” Alysa shouted and Creed instinctively ducked down just as Faith blew a yellow powder from her hand, into his face. What little he inhaled was enough, however, and Creed began coughing and waving his hands around, “I can’t see. Whatever it is, get rid of it!” Alysa cupped her hands together, summoning heat and fire. Queen Faith ignored her for the moment and raised her arms, summoning enough wind to blast Creed into the air, his head hitting a rafter along the roof before dropping to the dirty floor. Alysa shot her hands forward, releasing a small fireball and, without looking, Faith waved a hand, deflecting the fireball against a mystic shield.
“Tell me you can do better than that, little girl,” Faith turned to her and smiled.
“Alysa, just get out of here,” Creed said as he began to pick himself up off the floor while struggling to see.
Alysa didn’t respond but rather, summoned a wind-attack against Faith. She had to prove herself and defeat this enemy. She knew that, if her mother had been there, the enemy would have been defeated already. As wind blew past the Iconoclast priestess, she circled her hands around as if catching an invisible object and twirled, flailing her arms almost in a dance before stretching them out toward Alysa. Dust swirled around her as she felt herself being sucked up in a small cyclone which threw her against the yellow wall paper. She felt the old wood crack under her before she fell to the floor. “Alysa?,” Creed stood up and rubbed his eyes in an attempt to recover. “You don’t stay down easily, do you?,” Queen Faith raised her hands once more and the two of them felt the house shake, releasing more dust and debris as the focused tremor forced Creed back to the ground. The wood under him quickly rotted and became soft and black as Faith curled her fingers. Creed began to stand once more but the floor gave way under his weight and he quickly fell out of sight; Alysa heard the sound of his body hitting the cellar below but his fate was unknown.
She stood, cupping her hands again, but Faith dashed forward, kicking her to the floor. As she struggled to breath, she watched Faith use an animalistic spell: the image of python coils briefly wrapped around her arms just before Faith snatched her by the throat and pinned her to the floor. Try as she might, Alysa could not break free from the iron grip.
“Poor Alysa Saraki,” Faith sneered, “The child who followed the heretics of Iseda. The least your mother could’ve done was teach you proper mysticism before she died.” Alysa looked past Faith, noticing a figure crawling out of the hole in the floor but drew no attention to it. “This is what happens when you deny True Nature,” Faith blew on her free hand as smoke began billowing from her palm. Behind her, Creed crawled silently along the floor, his hand grasping toward her ankle as she spoke, “Let’s hope Nature has more forgiveness than I do.” Alysa didn’t know the Creole language but if she did, she would have understood Faith’s next words, “Why did we bother hiring those hitmen?” Faith raised her smoking hand and slapped it against the floorboards, leaving a dark palm print that soon caught fire. Creed finally snagged her ankle and pulled her into the air. Faith screamed and flailed as she sailed across the room before disappearing in the hole in the floor. Alysa couldn’t hear her hitting the ground below, however.
Meanwhile, the flames began to spread abnormally fast as Alysa helped Creed cross the room. “Is that smoke?,” Creed asked as he sniffed the air, still blind. “The whole place is on fire,” Alysa quickly guided Creed to the door as the walls ignited in flames. They quickly exited just as the entire house became engulfed and a second later, it collapsed as the burning process sped up. Creed’s vision returned in time to see the flames dying out, leaving nothing but ash.
Alysa was furious at herself for failing but tried to hide it as much as possible, “Do- Is it possible that bitch died in that fire?”
“Nah,” Creed shook his head, “That was a priestess. She’s still out there somewhere.”
“You think she’s the one the hitmen are working for?”
“Could be. Either way, she’s part of it all. At least we got some evidence before it all went up. You did good.”
Alysa’s anger finally got the better of her and she rose her voice, “Did good? How do you figure that?”
“We got evidence before the place went up. I got an idea of what they’re up to now.”
“Yeah, but I got my ass kicked. I should’ve…,” she crossed her arms in defeat, “Been better.”
Creed turned and looked her in the eye, “Yeah, well, in this line of work, you get your ass kicked every once in a while. It’s how you learn.”
“I’m sorry,… I should have told you. I-I don’t know anything about fighting,” she began directing her anger elsewhere, “My mom didn’t want me going on any cases or anything, so -“
“Maybe she taught you more than you realize.”
“Don’t feel like that’s the case,” she rolled her eyes, “So where do we go from here?”
Creed thought to himself once more before responding, “We go to the Suburbs.”